Monday, October 18, 2010

Projecting History

I’ve recently come across some fantastic slides containing images of Lyric Theatre productions throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, including Many Young Men of Twenty (1961) and The Silver Tassie (1970) amongst others. The images involved are incredibly clear, and are perhaps even more visually arresting than photographic negatives. Although their popularity has waned in recent years, slides were a popular method of storing and disseminating photographic images.

Examples of slides, 1940s to 1980s. Note the card and metal mounts of the older slides, moving to plastic in more recent times
The film in a slide is commonly referred to as ‘slide film’ but is more accurately called reversal film. It differs from traditional photographic film in that it creates a positive of the image rather than a negative. Simply put, this type of film reflects the colours and tones present in the image. These slides are an excellent example of this, being still rich in vibrant colour even after forty years in storage.

Slide storage box
Slides were usually viewed via projector, and made an affordable alternative to photographic prints in the days when these were prohibitively expensive and of uncertain quality. For the Lyric, slides would have been a way to easily and safely store images from productions with little space needed. However, by the 1970s print quality had vastly improved, and had become cheaper for the amateur photographer. Reversal film was widely used in print publishing, however, until the mid-1990s. Since then they have been displaced by digital media. Slides remain in archival collections though as evidence not only of the images they contain, but also of the changing nature of photographic technology.

Sarah Poutch

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